Coping with Grief in Doses

BY: Diane Snyder Cowan

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss
​I don’t have time to grieve. My day consists of getting up and ready for work, getting the kids ready for school, walking the dog, taking the kids to school, driving to work and working eight hours, picking up the kids, walking the dog (who was my husband’s, by the way), making dinner and figuring out how to unclog the sink. If I only had one hour to grieve! 

This young widow thinks that if she had one hour to grieve, she would be okay. Grief doesn’t work that way. However, grieving in doses may help. For some, the dual process model of coping with grief is beneficial.  This model is based on the work of Stroebe and Schut (1999). It identifies two types of stressors: loss-oriented and restoration-oriented. Loss-oriented is working through the tasks of grief. Restoration-oriented is coping with daily life stressors and changes that have come about as the result of death.

This could include learning new skills such as balancing the household budget and car maintenance. The bereaved person moves back and forth between confronting the tasks of grief and avoiding the tasks of grief.  This model also supports the need for dosing out grief. Taking a break from grief can be a healthy aspect of coping.

So, setting aside an hour (repeatedly) can be helpful. Or, some women grieve intensely in their car. They don’t want their kids to see them crying. Then they pull themselves together when they pull into the driveway or parking lot.

Grieving in doses can be positive. There is movement between coping with the loss and moving forward. The bereaved person is adjusting to a new role (from spouse to widow) and possibly learning new skills. This in itself is hard work especially while one is reeling with sadness and yearning for their deceased loved one.

Returning to work can provide a break from your grief. Don’t worry, it will be there when you get home.  And a wave of grief can certainly come up unexpectedly at work. Try taking a 15-20 minute break or lunch period to go out to your car to cry and grieve for a short period of time. Whether it’s the course of any day or over a week, you can move between loss and restoration activities. This approach to grief normalizes the varying responses and uniqueness of each person’s circumstance.

It’s important to consider that everyone grieves differently and there is no cookie cutter approach for coping.  Reach out to others either online or in person for support and ideas. Seek professional help as needed.   Remember, you do not need to grieve alone.

Source: Stroebe M.,  Schut H. The dual process model of coping with bereavement: rational and description. Death studies. 1999;23: 197-224.

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